The rise of potholes & how to claim for pothole damage


The UK’s roads are facing a crisis that’s hard to ignore. The rise and severity of potholes have become both a concern and a danger to drivers nationwide. 

Potholes aren’t just inconvenient; they’re costly too. The sudden jolt of hitting a pothole is not pleasing, and it’s worse when you factor in a potential expensive repair cost or an increased premium if the council doesn’t cover the claim (there’s more on this later). 

As experts in classic car insurance, we have a wealth of knowledge on a variety of claim types. In this article, we’ll help you understand more on the danger of potholes, how a vehicle can be damaged, tips to minimise damage and how to make a successful claim.


The current UK pothole crisis

Our roads are deteriorating at an alarming rate. From rural roads to major motorways, potholes are becoming more common, making driving risky and costly for many. 

Potholes aren’t new, but the issue is worsening. The number of reported potholes hit a five-year high last year, and the AA estimate they may have cost UK drivers as much as £500m in repairs. 

There are thought to be more than one million potholes, and these road defects are one of the leading causes of car breakdowns. Speaking of breakdowns, the RAC attended almost 30,000 pothole-related breakdowns in 2023, an increase of 33% compared to 2022 – an indication that the issue is worsening. 

This isn’t good for classic car owners as replacing parts can be difficult to source and it’s costly too.  

The same pothole that damages a car, could prove fatal to two-wheeled drivers; classic motorcycle owners should be even more cautious as the increase in potholes sadly poses a heightened risk to them. 

It appears that organisations are taking action to improve our roads though. 

The Pothole Partnership is a newly formed partnership by the AA, the National Motorcyclists Council, British Cycling, IAM RoadSmart, the British Motorcyclists Federation and manufacturer JCB. They have unveiled a new five-point plan to help tackle the issue. 

The government has committed an extra £8.3bn of funding to local councils over the next 11 years, which should give squeezed authorities some certainty of cash to help them plan consistent longer-term maintenance. 


Why the UK have so many potholes

The prevalence of potholes on UK roads is a multifaceted issue, with several factors contributing to road deterioration. 

  1. Increased traffic and aging infrastructure: Many of the UK’s roads were not designed to withstand the volume or weight of modern traffic, particularly with more heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) adding extra pressure on road surfaces. The weight and frequency of these vehicles contribute to the breakdown of the road, accelerating the creation of potholes.
  2. Weather conditions: Frequent rain and fluctuating temperatures during the winter months cause water to seep into cracks in the road surface. The water freezes and expands which causes the surface to worsen. Then as temperatures rise again, the ice melts leaving voids beneath the surface that collapse from the weight of passing traffic.
  3. Lack of funding: Local councils are primarily responsible for maintaining the majority of the roads in the UK. However, they’ve faced financial shortfalls with a number of budget cuts. This leads to temporary fixes that don’t last, instead of long-term solutions. 

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How dangerous are potholes?

Potholes pose a real danger to drivers and their vehicles. When your vehicle hits a pothole, the impact can lead to a variety of issues, some of which may not be immediately noticeable but can cause long term damage. 


Potential issues from hitting a pothole

Tyre and wheel damage

One of the most common outcomes of hitting a pothole is tyre or wheel damage. Hitting a pothole can cause immediate damage by slicing the tyre, cracking the alloys and throwing off your car’s wheel balance. In worse situations, complete wheel failure can occur causing drivers to lose control and possibly get into accidents if hit at high speeds. 


Suspension problems

Hitting a pothole can jolt the suspension’s components leading to broken shocks and misalignment. This results in a rougher ride, making it harder to control the car. 


Steering system misalignment

Your car’s steering system can be knocked out of alignment. This can lead to an uneven distribution of weight on your tires, causing the steering wheel to feel loose and unresponsive, or pulling the car to one side. 


Exhaust damage

A low-lying pothole poses a risk to the underside of the car including the exhaust system. Impacts can lead to cracks or holes in the exhaust pipes, affecting vehicle performance and potentially leading to exhaust leaks. 

Inflating a car tyre using a pump to help minimise pothole damage.

Tips for drivers to minimise pothole damage

Avoiding potholes can be challenging. But there are some steps that you can take to safely deal with potholes and reduce the risk of damage to your car. 

Firstly, ensuring your tyres are in good condition and are properly inflated adds a layer of protection for your wheels when you encounter a pothole. 

Always stay alert to the road ahead so you can spot potholes early and either avoid them or prepare for the impact. If you can’t avoid a pothole, slowing down can help minimise the damage, but avoid braking directly over it as this can actually worsen the impact. 

Wet weather makes potholes harder to spot since they can be hidden under puddles. If you’re familiar with your route and know where potholes might be, try to avoid them or choose a different path if you can. But, no matter how cautious you are, sometimes hitting a pothole is unavoidable. 

If your car becomes damaged, that’s where having good breakdown cover becomes invaluable. Having breakdown cover means you’re just a phone call away from getting help. It can cover the costs of roadside assistance and towing if your car is undriveable. So, it not only helps with immediate issues like flat tyres or a damaged suspension, but it also gives you peace of mind knowing you’re not alone on the road. 

Using a phone to report a pothole or breakdown.

Reporting a pothole to your local authority

Discovering a pothole on your route can be frustrating, but taking the step to report it to your local authority can help prevent damage for other drivers too. By taking a few minutes to report a pothole, you’re playing an active role in maintaining safety on UK roads. 

Most authorities have dedicated sections on their websites for road maintenance issues, including for reporting a pothole. If you’re unsure which authority is responsible for the area where you found the pothole, the government’s website can direct you to the correct authority, or to Highways England if the pothole is on a motorway or an A road they manage in England. 

When reporting a pothole, try to be as specific as possible about its location. Use landmarks or street names to describe where it is, and if it’s safe to do so, consider taking a photo to include with your report. 

Making a claim for pothole damage

Nobody wants to have their car damaged from a pothole. Fortunately, you may be able to claim compensation from your local authority for the damage which won’t affect your insurance premium. Here’s what you need to know about making a claim for pothole damage. 


Can I claim for damage caused by potholes?

Yes, you can claim for damage caused by potholes. If you hit a pothole and it results in damage to your car or motorcycle, you’re entitled to seek compensation. Generally, claims should be made via the local authority as they are responsible for maintaining the road.  

The local authority's liability for pothole damage

A local authority’s liability for pothole damage hinges on their duty to maintain roads in a safe condition. If they have failed this, either by not conducting regular inspections or not acting on pothole reports, they may be liable for damages. 

However, proving negligence can be challenging. Local authorities have a statutory defence if they can show they had a reasonable system in place for road inspection and maintenance. 

Claiming this way would mean your insurance premium won’t be affected. If the council reject your claim, you can also get covered through your standard insurance, but it would be a fault claim where your premium and no claims bonus will be affected. 

Making a successful pothole claim

To make a successful claim for pothole damage, we advise following these simple steps: 

  1. Document the damage: If it’s safe to do so, try to take clear photos of the pothole and any damage to your vehicle. Note the pothole’s location, size, and depth – if possible. 
  2. Keep your paperwork: Gather any repair quotes or receipts if you’ve already had the damage fixed. Witness statements can also support your claim. 
  3. Speak to your insurer: By speaking to an insurance broker like us at Heritage, we will help in any way we can with reporting your claim and ensuring you have everything you need. 
  4. Submit your claim: Contact the local authority and submit your claim. Include all your evidence, a description of the incident, and any costs incurred due to the damage. 

Read more about submitting a successful pothole claim

Pothole damage: FAQs

Are there any preventative measures to avoid pothole damage?

To minimise the risk of pothole damage, maintain a safe following distance to give yourself time to spot and avoid potholes. Ensure your tyres are inflated appropriately and in good condition, as they can offer some protection against damage. Also, driving at a lower speed can reduce the impact if you can’t avoid hitting a pothole. 

What should I do immediately after hitting a pothole?

After hitting a pothole, first, ensure it’s safe, then inspect your vehicle for any visible damage, especially to the tyres and wheels. If your car is damaged, and you have breakdown cover, ringing your provider for assistance is the best first step.  

Document the pothole’s location and, if possible, take photographs of the pothole and the damage. This information will be important if you decide to make a claim.  

How can I prove pothole damage to make a successful claim?

To strengthen your claim, provide clear photographs of the pothole and the damage to your vehicle. Include detailed repair quotes or invoices, a precise location of the pothole, and any witness statements if available. Reporting the pothole to the council at the time of the incident also supports your claim. 

Does my car insurance cover pothole damage?

Some car insurance policies may cover pothole damage, particularly if you have comprehensive coverage. However, claiming on your insurance for pothole damage may affect your no-claims bonus and future premiums. It’s worth claiming through the local council, or if unsuccessful, assessing the cost of repairs against your policy’s excess and potential premium increases before making a claim.